Bomb hits Maguindanao guv's convoy; 1 dead, 7 hurt

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Monday, August 15, 2011

DAVAO CITY (Updated) -- One person was confirmed dead while seven others were wounded in an explosion that struck Maguindanao Governor Esmael Mangudadatu's convoy in Tacurong City, Sultan Kudarat, Monday.

Mangudadatu said he was shaken but unhurt in the bombing that occurred around 3:20 p.m. while his convoy of about 10 vehicles was cruising along the highway in Tacurong. He and his followers were heading to a restaurant to celebrate his birthday.

The bomb, placed inside an old and white Kia vehicle that was parked at the side of the road fronting the Cherubim Methodist Learning Center in Alunan Highway, exploded when a Toyota Fortuner passed near it.


"The blast was so powerful that I saw one of the cars in my convoy going up in flames," Mangudadatu said in a television interview.

He said he was not injured because his vehicle is bullet-proof.

Seven of the passengers in other vehicles were, however, not as lucky as the governor.

"May namatay sa kasamahan namin. May tatlong sugatan, yung isang board member ko, kasama ko (One was killed, while three were wounded, including the board member who's with me)," Mangudadatu said.

The fatality was identified as Rocky Pareña, a tricycle driver.

Wounded were Datu Rusman Sinsuat Sr., who is said to be a Provincial Board member and a relative of the Mangudadatus; his son Datu Rusman Sinsuat Jr.; Bebot Lauban Barabarang; Noble Abdulah; Mabang Antonio Algaba; Richard Sonza; and Robert Formacion.

"Si Rusman Sinsuat at saka yung anak nya naputulan ng paa (Among the victims were Rusman Sinsuat and his son, whose foot was severed by the blast)," the governor said.

Sinsuat Sr. and his son were riding in the convoy's third car, which absorbed the main impact of the bomb.

Mangudadatu said the bomb, composed of a 105-millimeter (mm) howitzer round, was just 10 to 15 meters away from their convoy when it exploded.

He said some journalists were in his convoy but it was not immediately clear if they were among the wounded.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda condemned the "attempted assassination" of Mangudadatu, adding investigators have identified the owner of the bomb-laden car and were checking other leads.

The Kia vehicle with plate number MDJ 274 reportedly belongs to Maureen Ella Macasindil of Datu Luho Village in Maa, Davao City.

Investigation showed that before Mangudadatu's convoy passed, a person coming from the car bomb ran across the highway before it exploded.

Sultan Kudarat police, however, refused to confirm that the attack was an assassination attempt on the Maguindanao governor.

"Actually, walang confirmation niyan, pero yan yung sabi-sabi nila. Wala tayong CCTV camera dito na ma-review na it was a convoy (It was not confirmed. We have no CCTV camera that could help us determine that it was a convoy)," said Provincial Police Director Danilo Peralta.

Chief Superintendent Benjardi Mantele, Central Mindanao police director, said that initial investigation showed the car was laden with an improvised explosive device.

Allan Freno, information officer of the Tacurong local government, said the explosion occurred near the city's rotunda.

Speaking near the blast site, Freno said the white Kia vehicle suffered heavy damages due to the impact of the explosion.

A passing Toyota Fortuner was hit by the explosion, wounding its passengers, he added.

Freno said that police and military bomb experts immediately rushed to the scene to conduct a deeper investigation.

Peralta said that investigators are still determining the "bomb's signature" that will give them the idea on who could be behind the attack, as no group immediately claimed responsibility for it.

Last Saturday, authorities recovered an improvised bomb fashioned from an 81-mm mortar shell at the Tacurong City public terminal.

Police officials said the bomb was intended to be brought to General Santos City.

Another bomb was also recovered along the highway of Datu Unsay town in Maguindanao last Saturday.

Early Friday morning, a bomb also exploded in Kidapawan City in North Cotabato, killing two, including the suspected bomber.

Peralta said that authorities are still determining whether the explosion on Monday and the recovery of the improvised explosive device on Saturday are connected.

Mangudadatu, who took office after his relatives were among those slain in the country's worst political massacre in 2009, however, believes he was the target of the attack.

He said Monday's blast was one more reason why the emergency declaration in Maguindanao, which empowers the military and police to take stronger actions to prevent violence, should not be lifted.

Many people associated with the main suspects still roam the province, Mangudadatu said.

"We know that many remnants of the suspects are still around, they're in the thousands," he added.

The emergency status in Maguindanao was declared following the attack also on the governor's convoy in November 2009 that left 57 people -- including Mangudadatu's wife, sisters, supporters and at least 31 journalists -- dead.

The group was attacked while they were on their way to register Mangudadatu's candidacy for governor, a position he later won by a landslide.

The massacre was blamed on Mangudadatu's political rivals, the Ampatuans, a powerful clan in Maguindanao province. Members of the family, however, denied involvement in the killings and pointed to Muslim guerrillas as possible suspects.

Sultan Kudarat and nearby Maguindanao are in a violent region that teems with Moro rebels and warlord clans with private armies. (With AP/Sunnex)

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on August 16, 2011.

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